David Boyle: Anchorage School District digs deeper budget hole with dishonest Inlet View Elementary School bond strategy

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By DAVID BOYLE

At its most recent board meeting, the Anchorage School Board decided to ask voters to build a brand-new Inlet View Elementary School at a cost of $50 million. 

For several years the debate has centered on whether to remodel the current Inlet View School or build a completely new school.

In the previous 2022 election Anchorage citizens cast their votes against building this new school.  It seems voters did not like the total cost of the bond.

The 2022 election had an ASD bond on it that totaled $111 million, including $31 million for a new Inlet View School.  Other vital projects included roof repairs and necessary security updates such as secure vestibule entries. 

Unfortunately, the district jeopardized these vital maintenance and security projects by combining them with a new Inlet View School.

However, in the 2023 election voters did approve a $38 million school bond for the necessary roof repairs and security improvements.  

At a school board meeting, several people testified for and against the rebuild of the Inlet View Elementary School. One person questioned the wisdom of building a two-story school in the highest earthquake zone, Zone 5, in Anchorage.

State Rep. Zack Fields opined that, “There are anti-education special interest groups that will use any opportunity to attack public schools.  The haters will interminably repeat the lie that remodeling is cheaper.”

Yet the numbers say exactly that — $24 million remodel vs $50 million rebuild. 

You read that correctly: The alternative to building a new Inlet View School is to remodel the current school at a cost of $24 million — less than half of the cost to build a new school.

But the administration stated that if the school were remodeled, there would be added costs in the next 15 years. These additional costs would bring the total to about $48 million. 

Of course, the administration offered no data to back up this opinion and board members did not ask the question.

Now, the school board is going down the same road with its strategy of combining necessary and vital roof repairs and security upgrades with the building of a new Inlet View School.

The choice given voters is a Hobson’s choice — take the bad project with the good project.

This will be a very hard sell to voters.  They rejected the Inlet View rebuild in 2022. And yet the district risks vital upgrades to appease the Inlet View neighborhood.

What the district may not tell voters is the total cost of the Inlet View rebuild. That will be nearly $50 million. The bond will only list $18,998,200. Here is a breakdown from the ASD capital project list:

Board member Dave Donley offered an amendment that would provide the voters with information about the total cost ($50 million) and the specific funding sources. Donley’s amendment failed due to no second. 

Why wouldn’t the district want to honor one of its values — transparency?

In the above chart, board memo 151s allocates $26,158,119 of remaining State funding to the rebuilding of a new Inlet View School.  This money could also be used to fill in the very deep budget hole, which is $95 million, according to the district, rather than building a new school.

Board member Donley moved to separate the bond into two bonds. One would be the rebuild of the Inlet View School and the other would be the remaining vital roof repairs/security upgrades. Donley is concerned that combining the Inlet View School with the other projects would jeopardize the entire bond, just as it did in the 2022 election.

His motion did not receive a second, so it failed.

So, the board will present the bond to the Assembly in December. This is similar to the one two years ago with a higher cost and a nicer ribbon wrapped around it.  

And the rest will be up to the voters.  

Would you rather dig a deeper budget hole for the school district by spending $50 million on building a new elementary school while the number of students is declining rapidly?

Or would you rather remodel the current elementary school at half the cost?  The decision is up to you, Anchorage voters.

David Boyle is the education writer for Must Read Alaska. 

23 COMMENTS

  1. ASD also talks about closing schools. It seems that closing Inlet View would be a good choice for their financial problem. Then use that money to repair other schools and also help their budget problem (which ASD brings on themselves by not using their money wisely). When closing schools keep the teachers and decrease the number of administrators

    • Jeff, you and I are of the same mind. Close Inlet View and use the freed up funds for the upgrades on other schools. It always bothered me that the ASD bonds for everything instead of budget. Please also note there is apparently a bond from 2013 (if un-issued or left-over funding can not be determined by the write-up) lying around that they want to use for this build. Makes one wonder how many other voter-approved bonds are still floating around at the ASD, and why those funds were not used for the budget or returned to the taxpayers.

  2. Just say NO. Anchorage citizens will base bond approval on academic achievement. Essentially this means, no new schools. Consolidate buildings and tighten your belts ASD, we are done writing you blank checks.

  3. ASD traditionally puts in pork with needed projects. The most recent, Gruening Middle School which should have been closed. I actually got a call from Zack Fields about an ADN letter opposing a new Inlet School. I agree with Boyle on this one and predict the Bond will fail

    • Frank, I agree with you. After the earthquake many in the ER community argued to close Gruening as the student numbers revealed our other ER schools had room to absorb that population (a suggestion was to make ER High a middle school). The ASD did not listen and Gruening was rebuilt. I hope you are correct that the bond will fail. It certainly does not have my vote either.

  4. Well. That’s encouraging majority of those voting here are smart enough to decline funding new schools. However they aren’t smarter enough into voting for new assembly and school board members when this community has the chance. The only reason that’ll make people like me leave this community is for financial reasons. I never could afford to live here even if the only apartment I could afford was 650 which was overpriced that should had been 350 Considering its size was no bigger than a bedroom. If the voting public hadn’t seen its mistake not voting for a new more conservative leaders when it had the chance last election to vote for lafrance instead of Bronson, anchorage will lose more younger working members with kids cause they work too hard for their money to see others spending it senselessly. That means less money spent on business, less kids for any school here, less money for those businesses that sell kids activities like dance, music, karate, gymnastics, horse backriding lessons.

  5. A different question: in a school district with declining enrollment, not to mention abysmal performance…

    Why rebuild or repair at all?

    A better option might be consolidation.

  6. Inlet school parents encouraged other students to apply so their numbers would increase and prevent closure (heard from the grapevine). This school should be closed, stop this nonsense!

  7. A better and more fundamental question would be, WHY does the Anchorage Fool District repeatedly insist on constructing sprawling, one-story, massively windowed, wildly energy inefficient, flat-roofed, impractical school buildings that are NOT suited to the Alaska climate?

    And their specious argument against a (merely) two-story school building being “unsafe” in an earthquake zone is a total red herring, unless they plan on building it out of mud bricks and paper. (Which, knowing the divorcement-from-reality of most of the members of the Anchorage School Board, is not outside the realm of possibility).

  8. The enrollment numbers tell the whole truth! The Anchorage school board does not have the students best interests in mind and they never will.

  9. Close the school ! No! on bond issues to rebuild or build new.
    Let’s find out how many kids attending this school are waivered to attend . They need to be attending their neighborhood school!!!

  10. The school board will do what they want regardless of public opinion.
    It’s not their money and the payoffs are already in place so common sense will not prevail.

  11. One could be forgiven for being delighted by the possibility of Anchorage School District officials deliberately mismanaging their corrupt enterprise into bankruptcy.
    .
    Corrupt? Have a look at “mustreadalaska.com/anchorage-school-district-bails-out-teamster-pension-plan/” and “mustreadalaska.com/anchorage-school-board-votes-for-construction-monopoly-by-labor-unions/”, hard to understand how this is not a RICO enterprise.
    .
    Anchorage’s easily corruptible mail-in ballot system virtually assures a new Inlet View Elementary School is happening sooner or later because, forget voters, there’s way too much money involved for ASD officials to accept any other outcome.
    .
    And ASD officials will get their budget-hole bailout. Watch for mainstream news media promoting a small, fair, sustainable sales tax for education… with appropriate exemptions, of course, for all socially endangered species in the community.
    .
    To Eaglexit leadership: may we ask again, what’s the plan and timeline for severing all ties with the Anchorage School Distict union-management team?

  12. If one recalls the $65 million dollar South High School’s humble beginnings, you may remember that there wasn’t a road leading to the building’s location. I believe that was/is a pre-emptive strike against building a muni school as is having adequate buffers to nearby neighborhoods. Lo and behold, a “road improvement” bond shows up for $350,000 in the next local election and, like most bonds, it passes. Naturally, nothing in the ballot verbiage mentioned that the road would be accessing a previously proposed new high school. But most of us who followed the process and actually care about what we pay the muni to keep our homes sniffed it out. With the ASD and School Board snubbing their noses at the people who initially voted it down doesn’t surprise me in the least.

  13. The Anchorage School district board knows what they are doing. They know next year during a election year, they are going to report, (they already have) that there will be a massive budget shortage. This will force the legislature to up their support of the school district. This is why no elementary schools were closed when there is a massive surplus of schools for the continuing decline of enrollment.

    The district knows that the republican legislature will not give money for the school. The parents will freak and pressure them to fund them without any cuts to the budget

  14. What really needs to be done is a complete audit of ASD expenses. For many years over half of the taxes that every Anchorage property owner pays goes to the ASD, even as enrollment continues to decline along with test scores and graduation rates. Yet, every year they come to the Anchorage voters with ever increasing bond proposals. We are talking about a school district with approximately 45,000 students and a budget of a billion dollars! We need to find the sinkhole all this money is going into and plug it.

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